Although U.K. citizens approved a Brexit referendum in 2016, the slow rollout of the departure from the EU has left many wondering when or if working people would feel an impact.
Negotiations between the U.K. and EU leaders were widely reported as bitter and hostile. Decisions were made to maintain a status quo between the economies until Dec. 31, 2020, in hopes of reaching a mutually beneficial agreement.
Whether either side will prosper now that previous rules have expired remains to be seen. But the changes to the way everyday people live, work, and migrate will be substantial. Going forward, immigration and employment laws are expected to impact citizens and non-citizens alike.
Brexit-driven changes to immigration law
The immigration policies of the EU leadership were a primary reason why U.K. residents wanted to sever ties. Some argued that unskilled migrants were reliant on taxpayer money. That sentiment is at the very core of a position paper published by the U.K. government.
The policy statement indicates the U.K. will restrict immigration and base the free movement of EU citizens and non-EU people based on an employment merit system. To migrate and remain in the U.K., people must accumulate points based on their likelihood of being gainfully employed.
For an immigrant to secure a visa and entrance to the U.K., they will need to be 18 years of age or older and meet a 70-point criteria. These are general government guidelines.
- Mandatory Employment Characteristics: These are considered non-tradeable thresholds, and visa applicants must achieve a 50-point minimum. A visa applicant earns 20 points from an approved employer sponsor. They can earn 20 points for a skilled level job offer, and intermediate English language fluency counts for 10 points.
- Tradeable Employment Characteristics: A visa applicant can accumulate 20 points for job offers in which there is an industry shortage, or the person has a postgraduate degree. Earning 20 points under these and other qualifying circumstances can offset mandatory employment characteristics.
Part of the Brexit concern was that unskilled workers would undercut minimum wage earners. Some argue that undocumented workers take non-taxed cash salaries, and this causes wage stagnation.
To address this issue, new Brexit rules require visa applicants to earn approximately the mandatory salary threshold, commonly called the “going rate” for a given profession. Salaries that exceed the going rate earn applicants more points and make securing a visa more likely. Earning a salary at or below 80 percent of the going rate results in zero points.
Brexit decisions regarding highly-skilled & low-skilled labour
Highly skilled and post-graduate degree professionals have increased flexibility when applying for a U.K. visa. The government indicates that it is willing to forego an employer sponsor in some cases. The conventional thinking is to maintain a global talent initiative.
Under the U.K. Tier 1 category, exceptionally talented individuals will have greater visa access. This group is expected to comprise only a small pool of workers and apply equally to EU and non-EU citizens. In many ways, the skilled or exceptionally talented pathway could open the door for immigrants to secure visas and leverage their hard work to apply for permanent residency in the future.
By contrast, low-skilled workers will find it increasingly difficult to gain a U.K. visa under the new rules, and will very probably need to seek legal immigration guidance, both for the initial application, and potential immigration appeals. Government officials are implementing policies that encourage companies to shift away from low-paying jobs and replace positions with advanced technology, automation, and innovation.
One of the areas employment-immigration rules are not expected to apply this policy is in the agricultural sector. The U.K. expects to allow agricultural workers reasonable access to seasonal visas.
Although treating educated and talented individuals differently from blue-collar workers have raised concerns, the U.K. government’s position is that it prefers to focus on retraining approximately 8.5 million citizens to fill positions before approving visas for low-skill occupations. The obstacles facing low-skilled and manual labour people are designed to minimize immigration from the EU and other regions.
Government regulations are expected to continue to support youth mobility through short-term visas. However, a reduction in undergraduate and postgraduate student visas is expected. These demographics reportedly comprise 19.6 percent and 35.8 percent of the student population, respectively.
The Brexit situation will not be a one-way street. U.K. citizens who have enjoyed the ease of travel will be tasked with applying for EU visas if they wish to remain abroad and earn a living outside the U.K.
Employment laws that may change due to Brexit
It’s essential for workers and employers to understand that the EU-based employment laws will no longer hold sway. Parliament appears inclined to remake some employment laws in the U.K. image. Employment law experts see the government as likely to revise or address the following areas.
- Compensation for discrimination: When workers are unfairly terminated, the law caps compensation at 88,519 pounds (US $120,102) or a single year’s salary. Brexit allows Parliament to revisit this formula.
- Transfer of undertakings (protection of employment) regulations: The Acquired Rights Directive of 2006 will no longer apply to U.K. workers. This protected many workers when a company changed ownership. It’s unclear whether Parliament will craft a similar regulation, make significant changes, or simply let it time out.
- Holiday compensation: Holiday entitlements have been inconsistently applied over the last decade and a half. Brexit presents an opportunity for government officials to craft a standard way of calculating holiday pay for citizens and non-citizens alike.
- Transparent and predictable working conditions directive: This EU directive was set to take effect in August 2022. It offered many employees a right to a written employment terms statement. It will not become law unless Parliament crafts a version.
- Work-life balance for parents and carers directive: Another EU mandate that also was to take effect in August 2022 addressed parental and caregiver rights. The flexible work hours proposed is also off the table unless Parliament passes legislation. However, legislation has already been proposed that may offer conditions more favourable than the EU version.
It would be something of an understatement to say that the laws regarding immigration and employment will create uncertainty in the coming months. If there is any positive coming out of the Brexit shift, it’s that the U.K has set a standard that treats citizens and non-citizens equally once a visa has been secured. However, getting a work visa appears to be increasingly difficult for low-skilled immigrants in the post-Brexit era.